Free Agency a Growing Occupation

This post is by guest blogger Cathy Y. Taylor

When the 2009-2010 NBA season ends, super star LeBron James will be a free agent. King James, as he is affectionately called, has been a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers since he jumped from high school to the pros six years ago. He has brought a lot of excitement to the city of Cleveland, including leading the Cavs to the Eastern Conference Finals last year against the Orlando Magic. Fans of the NBA are curious about what will happen when LeBron becomes a free agent. Given his performance, I can’t imagine any team in the league turning down a chance to add LeBron James to their roster.

While free agency is a nice concept for professional athletes, how does it apply to other professionals? What does it mean to be a free agent when your employer tells you that your job is being eliminated? Unfortunately, most people don’t have an agent at their disposal to line up their next opportunity. Most people are pretty much left on their own to navigate the tedious process of filing for unemployment, signing up for COBRA plans, if they can afford it, and sifting through savings to see how long they can pay the bills.

Think about what’s next

If there is ever a time to consider how to advance your talents and skills as a free agent, now is the time. One of the most effective ways to do this is to develop and manage your own online reputation. It’s sort of like your ESPN highlight reel — an online profile that clearly represents the success you’ve had in the past and gives potential managers a snapshot of how you can add value to a new organization.

According to a survey done by Michigan-based Kelly Services, 25% of the total population consider themselves self-employed, aka ‘free agents.’  90% of those say they voluntarily sought to become self-employed. These are the people who recognize that waiting for job creation to begin may mean having to create their next job opportunity.

So what to do if you are forced into free agency?

1. Don’t panic. What may seem like an impossible situation is actually a great opportunity. Look deep inside the networks you’ve developed and you will be amazed at the amount of ‘social capital’ you have available to you. Consider doing pro bono work to expand your network, but be sure to do it sincerely without any expectations of repayment. You can’t build trust if you do it for the wrong reasons.

2. Develop and/or improve your social media skills. We are in an incredibly viral and technological age, and it is one that can be used to your benefit. If you have a profile on LinkedIn, make sure it’s updated and clearly reflects your talents and abilities. Start a Twitter account, think about what you have to offer that is of value to people, then figure out how to say it in 140 characters or less. It will help build followers who share your interests.

3. Find bloggers who are in your space and follow their posts. You can create a list in Google Reader to track your favorite blogs. Whenever the blog is  about subjects that involve your expertise, make comments. You will be surprised at the number of people who will value what you have to share. Use your Twitter handle in your comments. It’s a great way to pick up like-minded followers or people who may want to seek your advice.

4. Get out of the house and mingle with other people. Don’t hide behind your laptop sending out tweets all day or updating your Facebook status. Check out co-working places in your community and think about becoming a member for a few days. Collaborating workspaces are a wonderful way to create opportunities.

Becoming a free agent can be one of the scariest moments in your life, but it can also be the most exciting time of your life. I am often reminded of something that NBA great Michael Jordan once said, ‘You gotta let the game come to you.’ This is true for free agents, whether you’re a professional athlete or a sales and marketing professional. Opportunities will present themselves if you place yourself in the right place with the right frame of mind.

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